Scion's Success Surprises Me...A Little

When Toyota announced plans to launch a
David Kiley

When Toyota announced plans to launch a "youth" brand, called Scion, with two small budget-priced products, I had the temerity to tell Toyota COO Jim Press that it was a bad idea. Jim makes a lot more money than I do, and there is logic in that. This is what I'm thinking.

Toyota launched the brand because young people were not flocking to Toyota as baby boomers had. Children of Camry buying parents would rather walk than buy a new Camry or Corolla (though I am guessing they would take Mom and Dad's used Camry for free). Scion, I thought, would be a ham-fisted way of trying to look cool to Gen Xers and Gen Y. It wouldn't work, I guessed.

Last year, Toyota sold almost 100,000 Scions and sold almost 11,000 in December. That puts the brand on track to sell 130,000 or more this year. That's called a success.

But here is one thing I want to point out for you kids at home. Yes, the boxy Scion Xb, is a big success, and looks cool. Heck, I even want one. The Xa has its good points, too. Jim Farley, Scion's marketing chief, told me back before the launch that the Scion name had tested very well with the target audience. The vehicles, too, had tested very well. But when I asked if the vehicles had been focus grouped with Toyota badging on them instead of Scion, he told me Toyota hadn't done such a test. Then how did you know you needed a new brand? Maybe the products would sell just as well under the Toyota brand. He said they hadn't done it because the decision had already been made to launch another brand.

Despite Scion's success, I still think it represents a great example of how the wrong questions frequently get asked by marketers. Perhaps if Toyota had tested the way I suggested, it could have saved itself a bunch of money on launching a new brand, and the new Xb and Xa would be casting a bit of "hip-dust" on the rest of the Toyota brand.

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